Elephant Cooperation 2020 Support

In January 2020, Mara Elephant Project was granted $10,000 from Elephant Cooperation to cover the running costs of the MEP Loita ranger unit’s Land Cruiser vehicle for the year. The permanent MEP Loita unit, deployed in early 2019, funded by Lori Price has already had a major impact on this important area of the Mara ecosystem. The vehicle, funded by Elephant Crisis Fund, plays a key role in their success as it allows them to cover a large distance in a short amount of time to root out poachers, illegal logging operations and mitigate human-elephant conflict. MEP rangers work tirelessly to protect elephants to conserve the Greater Mara Ecosystem, and Elephant Cooperation’s support of the running costs of this vital asset to the Loita ranger unit enabled MEP to focus on expanding our impact in Loita by deploying a second permanent Loita ranger unit in December 2020.

The beautiful Loita Forest photographed in 2020 remains largely intact, all the more reason for protection.

The Southern Loita Plains area (3,000 km2; 741,316 acres) in the Greater Mara Ecosystem stretches into the Southern Rift Valley in Kenya, which forms an important link for elephants between the GME and the Shompole and Kajiado ecosystems through the Sand River corridor. The Loita Plains also includes the Loita Forest which is 600 km2 (over 148,260 acres) of pristine forest that is an important refuge for elephants. Though Kenya’s largest rivers originate in the Aberdares, Mt. Kenya and the Mau Forest complex, smaller forests such as Loita are key to the provision of water year-round for wildlife and communities. MEP’s rangers are the backbone of our organization and over time their presence in an area increases the protection for wildlife, communities and habitat. The permanent Loita ranger unit alongside MEP’s rapid response unit have been on the ground in the Loita Forest area responding to conflict, poaching and habitat destruction in 2020. Based on MEP intelligence and observations on the ground, this unregulated and unprotected area has active poaching activity, escalating conflict, illegal logging and charcoal production.

MEP Loita Team ‘Golf’ with two suspects operating two power saws and podocarpus planks (June 8, 2020).

The northern portion of the Loita Plains, an area called Naroosura, is set to be subdivided, which is attributing to rising tensions between wildlife and communities. In June 2020, rangers responded to nine total conflict incidents alone just in this area and a young man was killed by an elephant during a conflict incident. In total in 2020, this ranger unit responded to 21 conflict incidents.

Crop damage photographed by MEP rangers responding to conflict in Naroosura on June 19, 2020.

In 2020, MEP rangers alongside government partners have addressed the poaching in the area by arresting one ivory poaching suspect with 7 kg of ivory and removing three bushmeat snares. Pictured left: On July 13 one man was arrested in a joint MEP-KWS operation for selling 3 pieces (7 kg) ivory south of Naroosura on the western Loita Forest boundary. They have deterred habitat destruction activities in 2020 by confiscating a total of 12,027 illegally logged posts, 700 timbers and 13 illegally chopped down trees. They destroyed 15 kilns and arrested 30 suspects for illegal logging or charcoal production and confiscated eight power saws. While this permanent ranger unit had a very successful 2020 in raising the opportunity cost for illegal forest destruction activities, more protection is still needed to ensure this area remains intact.

Loita Forest has seen significant illegal logging activity in 2020.

That’s why in September 2020, MEP began recruitment of local community members and 10 men and women from Loita were trained on MEP’s campus and deployed alongside the first team in the Loita area to increase MEP’s protective net. MEP works closely with local communities to protect Kenya’s iconic elephants and the habitat upon which they depend, which is why recruiting local men and women is an effective approach to increasing the protection of an area. We also know that a partnership approach like the one Kenya Wildlife Service and MEP have taken works and having boots on the ground in an increasingly threatened area is key to increasing security.

The Loita team was recruited in September and trained in October.

All of MEP’s rangers patrolling the Loita area are responsible for responding to conflict and collecting information on all conflict incidents to analyze in MEP’s EarthRanger system. The information gathered when combined with the elephant movements from our collared elephants will be used to inform spatial planning to protect elephant habitat and test and modify different conflict mitigation techniques with the community. In addition, they will be tasked with increasing security in the area for wildlife by reducing poaching and illegal habitat destruction activities.

The new MEP Loita team kitted and ready for deployment in December.

In 2021, we expect to see even more impact and a (1) reduction in illegal activities (logging, charcoal burning and poaching); (2) reduction in habitat loss; (3) greater understanding of the drivers and actual levels of conflict in the area; (4) improved conflict mitigation and prevention strategies that result in less injuries to elephants, reduced loss of income and injuries to local communities, and improved community support for the protection of elephants and the environment. Mara Elephant Project thanks Elephant Cooperation in their support to achieve these goals in 2020.

The new Loita team at their graduation ceremony in November.